The following advice comes from my heart and my personal experience. I am not a lawyer. I did graduate from college with a degree in Communications, however, that does not qualify me to offer professional legal advice. If you read this article, remember you must consult an attorney to get help for your specific situation.
There are numerous, diverse issues surrounding legal custody of your children. Laws vary from state to state. Each individual situation is different depending on your personal circumstances, such as: marital status; employment; income; other financial resources; family support; relationship with other parent; past history of abuse or domestic violence; arrest record; and past role in children's life.
The following ideas are only some suggestions to consider if you are fighting for custody of your children or if you fear that you may have to battle the father/mother of your children for custody.
My first suggestion comes from my own terrifying experience.
1 - Don't think you will never have to fight for custody of your children.
Don't assume you know the father/mother of your children so well, that you have no fear of being forced to fight this man or woman to retain your parental rights. Don't foolishly trust everything the father/mother of your children tells you.
If they were planning to file for custody of your children, do you really think they'd let you know in advance? Obviously if they gave you with any type of a warning, you would have time to obtain your own lawyer and try to beat them at their own game. So of course, they're going to lie about their intentions if they're planning to seek custody of your children.
And they're going to try to make their lies sound so sincere, so convincing and so honest that you could easily be deceived. The only advice I have about how to tell the difference between a lie and the truth is - go with your gut instinct. If you have any reason to believe they may be thinking of filing for custody of your children, follow your heart. If you have any doubt about how honest they're being with you, don't wait around to see what happens next. Time is critical, so don't delay taking action to protect yourself if you feel threatened or mislead in any way.
2 - Be very careful about who you trust with important information.
You may be shocked to find out how quickly word travels from what you tell your friends or some of your family members to the other parent's friends or family members. People love to gossip. Rumors spread like wildfire with little regard for you or your children.
The only way to extinguish flaming tales of your tragic situation is to keep your mouth shut. Don't share your side of the story with anyone unless you are willing to bet your life and your future with your children on their loyalty to you.
When you're hurt by the actions of the father/mother of your children, it can be very difficult to not talk about your feelings of disbelief, anger, anxiety and devastation, but it can hurt you more in the long run to share your emotions with even your closest friends and family. You never know who will repeat what you say to whom and there's nothing worse than being stabbed in the back by someone you thought you could trust.
This may be the most expensive, bitter battle of your life. Don't risk the outcome by revealing significant factors of your defense to more than a few of your closest friends or family members, who you trust with all your heart. The stakes are high in any custody case. Gambling in this situation can reduce your credibility, destroy your reputation, ruin your defense strategy and significantly decrease your chances of winning in court.
3 - Hire a lawyer. You do need one.
You're selling yourself short if you don't seek legal advice. Unless you have incredible knowledge of the child custody laws in your state, if you are not represented by an attorney, you will probably be manipulated, intimidated and mislead by the attorney hired by the father/mother of your children.
Lawyers are not cheap. Hourly rates vary from $100 to $300 an hour. Be prepared to pay anywhere from $200 to $500 just for an initial consultation, which is the first step in finding a lawyer to represent you. Once you share your side of the story with an attorney, they should tell you what they believe the chances are for you to prevail, what their strategy would be to defend you, and how much they will require as a “retainer fee.”
Retainer fees can range from $500 to $5,000 for a really good lawyer. You must pay this money up front before they will take actions to represent you. This fee is usually put into an account that your attorney uses to fund your defense. Each phone call, office visit, fax correspondence, conference call with other attorney, review of your message on voice mail, etc. costs you money. The attorney deducts these costs from the retainer fee.
4 - Seek free legal advice if you cannot afford to pay for an attorney.
If you cannot afford a lawyer, most states have free legal services available for people, who qualify for this type of assistance based on their income.
If you have time to look for a lawyer, one of the best ways to find a good attorney, is by asking friends, family, business associates - people with knowledge in this field - people you respect and trust. What you hear by word of mouth will probably give you more honest insight into a lawyer's ability than any advertisement claiming to offer the best attorneys for your case.
If you think you can't afford to hire an attorney, consider whether you can afford to lose custody of your children. The choice is yours. Where there's a will, there's usually a way. You may have to take a bank loan, remortage your house, borrow from friends or family members, sell your favorite toys, cash in savings bonds, withdraw from your retirement account, pawn your diamond ring, or cancel your cable television, cellular phone service, or other little luxuries, but aren't your children worth making any sacrifice to ensure your future together?
5 - Watch your back.
Consider every move you make with extreme caution. You would be surprised how stupid little actions you take can be twisted to appear negative or illegal. Don't do anything remotely illegal, like: lying on your tax return; taking a job that pays “under the table;” drinking and driving; associating with people who may be linked to potentially illegal activities or visiting establishments with questionable reputations.
Make an extra effort to keep your house clean, free of products containing alcohol, and full of items essential for proper feeding, bathing, teaching, and caring for your children. You never know who is watching you or when you may get a knock at the door from the local Child Welfare authorities, who received an anonymous report that you're an unfit parent.
If you believe in the "always innocent until proven guilty" concept, you may be disappointed. Better safe than sorry when it's your children, your reputation, your parenting skills, your mental stability and your life that's on trial.
6 - Never ever sign anything that your attorney hasn't read.
Better yet only sign documents related to your child custody case in the presence of your attorney.
Even though it takes less than a minute to apply your signature to a piece of paper, it can take months to reverse the terms you agreed to be signing a legal document.7 - Remember no matter how much you're hurting and regardless of how much you loathe the father/mother of your children, a child custody case is not about you.
It's about your children. It's about what's best for them. The court battle and the consequences of the outcome have the potential to hurt your kids more than anyone.